Immigration, Storytelling and Self-Discovery: Grace Talusan Shares Her Memoir

The power of storytelling is often underestimated, and no one knows that better than Grace Talusan. For the second year in a row, Talusan visited JWU’s Providence Campus to speak to students about her life, her travels and her writing.

For those who don’t know her story, Grace Talusan came to the U.S. from the Philippines with her parents when she was two years old. But when her visa expired, she unknowingly became an undocumented immigrant. By nine years old she was facing the threat of deportation, and she and her family spent years trying to get their paperwork in order to become legal citizens.

Now a successful writer and lecturer at Tufts University, Talusan shares her journey to American citizenship and many other stories in her forthcoming memoir “The Body Papers.”

Grace Talusan's photo on the cover of her book, “The Body Papers.”

Before her presentation, several students and faculty from the John Hazen White College of Arts & Sciences came together to welcome Talusan with a reception. As they snacked on a delicious spread of appetizers, the group swapped stories about everything from where they grew up to a faculty member getting carjacked in Brazil.

Talusan also asked the students about their classes and assignments, and how they were adjusting to writing in college versus high school. The four first-year students, Madison Mirabile, Michelle Rivera, Katie Claire Lisbo and Marisah Conway all agreed that college writing was not as difficult as people make it out to be.

“I feel like a lot of high school teachers try to make it sound scarier than it is,” said Conway. “But, it hasn’t been bad at all so far.”

“Just wait,” Department Chair and Professor Scott Palmieri joked.

Grace Tulsan speaking with JWU faculty and students.

The discussion turned to some of Talusan’s own writing, particularly “My Father’s Noose,” a short essay about the abuse her father had faced as a child. She revealed that although her aunt and other relatives were against the piece, the rest of her family members were very supportive — including her father.

“He felt very good and proud that people had heard his story,” Talusan said. “All of his relatives don’t want to talk about it, but I think it’s important to talk about so that something like that won’t happen again.”

Grace Talusan on stage talking to JWU students and faculty

After the reception, Talusan headed off to prepare for the presentation, which began with a beautifully impassioned speech about the importance of storytelling. She shared some of her stories, excerpts from her memoir and photos of the government documents that were part of her immigration file.

"I’m just trying to get at the truth of the human experience — whatever it’s going to be."

She then fielded questions from the large crowd of students, who were interested to know what her greatest motivation was for sharing these stories.

“I do it for me,” she said. “I don’t have a motive of changing people’s minds or encouraging them to vote a certain way or anything like that. I’m just trying to get at the truth of the human experience — whatever it’s going to be.”